Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Last week, my Hungarian immigrant neighbor who I'll call G told me he would be evicted today. He's a strong man who knows well how to weather crisis, but his worry was palpable. G has a lovely, bright, well mannered 8-year-old daughter named S who has become my girls' best friend and has begun to feel like my third child. He also lives with his elderly Hungarian, non-english speaking parents, who I mostly know from smiles and nods as I pass the stoop where they smoke outside the apartment, or when they show up humbly at the door to retrieve S.
Today, as I left for work, I found the note above clipped to my door along with G's keys. As I pulled onto the metered ramp for I-5, I called our apartment manager, who I'll call The Good Witch of the North (GWotN). I explained the note, and asked how long I had to rescue some of their things. Her response was legalistic. She wanted the note and keys and could give me no information. I said I'd do what I needed to do and pulled off at 85th to head back north.
When I let myself in, all the furniture was there, along with their large but basic television. A few sitting chairs and cheap bookshelves. An inexpensive folding table and chairs in the dining area. The cable box flashed its green and yellow lights at me. The toothbrushes were still in their cup in the bathroom. Food was in the kitchen. S's oversized teddy bear sat against the wall, looking forlorn.
I went to work, rescuing various small kitchen appliances and things that had been left behind in the rush. S's skateboard, halloween witches hat, chair, bear, and bicycle. The set of child's furniture. The new bed. The TV. The food was what you find in a poverty house. A frozen "gourmet" mac & cheese dinner. A few cans of vegetables, Milk. Eggs. A handfull of spices, including two cans of Hungarian paprika.
I turned in the keys, and spent an hour talking with the GWotN, whose daughter goes to third grade with S. "She's special, destined for something," she said. I agreed. She felt horrible, and called later to ask If I'd heard anything. I hadn't. G isn't returning her calls.
He told me he'd be in touch to bring S by for playdates. Apparently S wasn't in school yesterday. "I'm worried for her," said GWotN. She sounded like she was about to cry. This happens to me too. I don't know what to tell the girls. The truth is too harsh for five-year-olds.
Yesterday, as I sat on another neighbor's porch sharing a smoke, we talked about how horrible and sad this is. A homeless family. A dad who can't make ends meet. A beautiful child. Two elderly grandparents who can't afford to fly back to Hungary.
"What happened," she asked. "Doesn't he work."
Yeah, I said. He works. He's got a crap working class job that he does while trying to ignore the pain from a bad back. He has a kid to support and two parents, and was over his head in a 2 BR apartment he couldn't afford.
Now I walk by their apartment door and it has, for me, the aspect of a corpse. A dead marker for something that is no longer alive. I made fried potatoes for dinner and poured on the Hungarian paprika in their memory.
USA Today reports that family homelesness is climbing dramatically, which should surprise nobody. It's only starting. The GWotN says she knows a place with 2000 sq ft she could get G into for $750 a month. I wish he'd call. I've got their stuff.